April 9, 2015

The Betrayal of Judas

By Dr. Panagiotis S. Martini

"Rejoice, Rabbi," and he kissed Him.
(Matt. 26:49)

From ancient times history has recorded many betrayals. We will mention, perhaps, the best known:

- In 480 B.C. at the Battle of Thermopylae, Ephialtes led the Persians through a narrow passage against Leonidas and the Spartans, and he has come down to us as a legendary traitor.

- On March 15, 44 B.C. Marcus Junius Brutus led the murder of his friend and protege Julius Ceasar. According to Seutonius, when Julius Ceasar saw Brutus among the conspirators, he said in Greek "καὶ σὺ, τέκνον;" ("you too, child?").

- One could characterize as a betrayal the violent removal of Photios the Great from the patriarchal throne by his student Leo VI the Wise, and as soon as he was crowned emperor in 886 A.D. Photios died in exile.

- In 1803 A.D. a Souliotes warrior named Pelios Gousis, according to the historian Christoforos Perraivos, suggested to the Turk-Albanians (Albanians who converted to Islam) of Ali Pasha an unguarded path leading to Koungi where a massacre of Greek men, women and children took place.

But the betrayal that went down in history as the most proverbial was that of Judas against his Teacher, Jesus. Throughout the world, the name "Judas Iscariot" has become synonymous with betrayal. Known to many as well is the custom of burning the effigy of Judas on the eve of Pascha or even on the day of the Great Feast.

According to the biblical tradition (New Testament) and other sources, Judas, the son of Simon, came from the city of Kerioth, south of Judea, hence the name "Iscariot". Of the Twelve Disciples, only he was a Judean, since the other disciples of the Lord were Galileans.

He was called to the apostolic rank with the other disciples: "And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles; Simon, (whom He also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother,... and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor" (Lk. 6:13-16). In the apostolic lists he is always named last and is characterized as "the traitor" (Matt. 6:4; Mk. 3:19; Lk. 6:16). It seems that he had practical skills and other properties, which is why he was made manager/treasurer of the small apostolic group and held on to the "money bag" (Jn. 12:6 and 13:29).

According to many researchers, it appears Judas belonged to the movement known as "zealots". The "zealots" were expecting the Messiah as a secular king and liberator who would free them not only from the Roman conquerors, but that he would make the Jewish nation a world empire modeled on that of the Roman. Many believe that the attachment of Judas to Jesus had selfish motivations. It was a self-interest "in the form of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but a secular one expected by the vast majority of Jews at the time" (Professor Panagiotis Bratsiotis).

However, the constant predictions of Jesus concerning His Passion began to scandalize Judas and created doubts, if indeed Jesus came as the Jews expected and even the zealots. Such predictions of Jesus concerning His Passion are preserved by Matthew the Evangelist: " From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life" (Matt. 16:21). And elsewhere in his Gospel he notes: "When they came together in Galilee, He said to them, 'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.' And the disciples were filled with grief" (Matt. 17:22-23). If the disciples of the Lord were "filled with grief" concerning the Passion of their Teacher, Judas must have been "filled with grief" when his hopes were frustrated that the Messiah as a secular ruler and deliverer was still to be awaited.

Also, at the dinner in Bethany, in the house of the risen Lazarus, the imminent end of Jesus was confirmed when, together with the passion of avarice, his ego was pricked after he received an indirect rebuke from Jesus. John the Evangelist notes that when the sister of Lazarus, Mary, began to anoint with precious myrrh the feet of Jesus, Judas Iscariot said: "Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth three hundred denarii (a year’s wages)." Then John notes: "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." And Jesus replied to Judas: "Leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me" (Jn. 12:3-8).

Lastly, the Lord, after His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, referred to His crucifixion as follows: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John explains: "He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die" (Jn. 12:32-33). Then the doubts of Judas came true. He felt a crisis within himself. He made his decision. He rushed to the chief priests and began his negotiations: "'What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him over to you?' So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over" (Matt. 26:14-16).

This is therefore how the betrayal and arrest of Jesus is described by the four Evangelists (Matt. 26:47-51; Mk. 14:43-46; Lk. 22:47-48; Jn. 18:3-5).

Regarding the betrayal of Judas, there are many views as to what initiated this dishonorable action. It is asked: Was it only his love for money, his avarice? Was it his dissatisfaction with the rebuke of Jesus at the dinner in Bethany? According to the views of many scholars, there were many and complex reasons. The Evangelists restrict the cause only to avarice, since it is stressed that "he was a thief". According to the late Professor Panagiotis Bratsiotis: "The most plausible is that Judas was attracted to Jesus out of self-interest and was inspired to faith in him as the Messiah not for the spiritual, but for the secular politics of Jesus. Above everything else he responds to his secular minded aspirations, but he is disappointed and not receptive to his actions, and he does not hesitate due to his untreated avarice to betray his teacher for a price so worthless."

The Lord often referred to the betrayal of Judas, which could be described as a warning to him. Indeed He uses very heavy characterizations. This is indicated in John (6:70) when He said to His disciples: "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" Also, in his High Priestly Prayer He calls Judas the "son of perdition" (Jn. 17:12). But on the night of the Secret Supper, after Jesus washed the feet of Judas, He repeats: "Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." John notes: "For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not everyone was clean" (Jn. 13:10-11).

There are disagreements among researchers if Judas was present at the establishment of the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. The ancient Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, based on Luke the Evangelist (22:14-23), believe that Judas took part in the tradition of the Mystery. Modern interpreters, however, based on John (18:21-30), deny Judas was present. Certainly the Lord gave Judas a last warning. To the question of one of His disciples (probably John), "Who will betray You?", the Lord responded: "'It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' Then, dipping the piece of bread, He gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, 'What you are about to do, do quickly'" (Jn. 13:26-27).

That night the great betrayal took place. He closed with the words: "'Rejoice, Rabbi,' and he kissed Him" (Matt. 26:49).

The next day, after the arrest and condemnation of Jesus, Judas, in a state of remorse, "returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' 'What is that to us?' they replied. 'That’s your responsibility.' So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:3-5). But the tree could not hold the traitor, for "there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out" (Acts 1:18).

Lastly, Papias, a disciple of John the Evangelist, says the following about Judas: "Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh was bloated. For his eyelids were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. When he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment he finally died in his own place. And because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day no one can pass that place unless they hold their nose, so great was the discharge from his body and so far did it spread over the ground."

Certainly there were some proponents of Judas, such as the Cainites in the 13th century, and others. But in the Christian conscience, the figure of Judas was always horrid, and the phrase "Judas" and "Iscariot" are derogatory and are identified with a traitor. In each effort to recover Judas, the words of the Lord apply: "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.